Firestarter, out this weekend from Universal Pictures in theaters and on Peacock, is another adaptation of the Stephen King novel of the same name.
This version stars Ryan Kiera Armstrong as Charlene “Charlie” McGee, a young girl who one day finds she has developed pyro-telekinesis, able to start fires with the power of thought. That makes her a danger to those around her, including her father Andrew (Zac Efron) and mother Vicky (Sydney Lemmon). It also makes her a person of interest to a government agency known as “The Shop”, personified by agents and assassins played by John Beasley, Michael Greyeyes and Gloria Reuben.
An earlier adaptation was released in 1984 with David Keith, Drew Barrymore, George C. Scott and others. This time around Universal partnered with Blumhouse Pictures for a version that promises to be just as terrifying as the original movie as well as the book both are based on.
announcement and casting
Universal and Blumhouse, along with Akiva Goldsman, announced their plans for a fresh adaptation of King’s book back in 2017. After a few missteps, Keith Thomas was named director in late 2019, with Scott Teems writing the script.
Efron and Greyeyes were cast over the course of 2020, with Armstrong joining in mid-2021 just as production was getting underway.
the marketing campaign
If you recognize the first poster, released in early February, that’s because it’s virtually identical to the one-sheet for the 1984 film, just with Armstrong instead of Barrymore. As such it’s pretty simple, conveying the basic idea that the story involves a young girl and fire. Copy at the top makes an additional appeal, calling out Blumhouse as the company behind the well-received The Invisible Man. It also makes sure to note the simultaneous theatrical/streaming release date, the copy here amounting to an announcement of those plans.
The trailer (18.8m YouTube views) opens by showing Charlie beginning to lose control of her powers in the middle of class, causing the temperature to rise, water to steam and metal to become hot to the touch. Her dad wants her to learn to keep those emotions buried deep down, but that’s impossible and an outburst gets the government’s attention. Now on the run, Andrew tries to teach Charlie how to harness her abilities, but the more control she gains the more she gives into the righteous feeling she gets when hurting others, especially those chasing them.
Around that same time, Universal announced horror legend John Carpenter, along with others, had composed the film’s score.
A TV commercial-like video (likely used as pre-roll on YouTube and probably on Peacock as well) came out in mid-April, about a month out from release. It boils (sorry) the trailer down to a few key dramatic moments to show the audience what they can expect. More spots like this continued to come out over the next few weeks.
Just a couple weeks ago Universal promoted the movie to exhibitors at CinemaCon, leading to an awkward moment on stage.
Over the last week or so there have been pre-roll ads placed in front of YouTube videos as well as online banner ads like the one here that lead clickers to the page where they can find out more about where and how to watch the movie.
Efron promoted the movie when he appeared on “Kimmel” recently.
The marketing here is…fine. It communicates what it needs to and includes multiple nods to the first film, which is a legitimate choice to be made versus trying to carve out and create a brand new identity for this new adaptation.
What I can’t quite grok, and which the campaign largely ignores, is that Zac Efron is now playing dad roles. That seems like a cultural turning point we should have collectively marked, or at least been made more aware of as it happened.
Grab some snacks and see how Warner Bros. is selling the animated reboot of the classic characters.
In this, the most fraught movie year in a century, comes Scoob!, complete with “!” as an official part of the title, the most notable release to do so since 2017’s Mother!.
At its core, the movie follows the basic Scooby Doo plot, one that sees Velma (voiced by Gina Rodriguez), Fred (Zac Efron), Daphne (Amanda Seyfried), Shaggy (Will Forte) and Scooby (Frank Welker) investigating a plot to set the ghost dog Cerebus free upon the world. That investigation sees them teaming up with fellow Hannah-Barbara creations Blue Falcon (Mark Wahlberg) and his faithful companion Dynomutt (Ken Jeong).
Amidst all that, the story also flashes back to the childhood first meeting of Scooby and Shaggy, one that was to set the stage for an endless stream of snacks to be consumed while the two try to stay out of danger while sticking with their friends as part of Mystery Incorporated.
While there have been two live-action theatrical films and plenty of animated straight-to-home movies, Scocb! marks the first full-length animated feature starring the characters. While certain adjustments have been made because of the current pandemic, WB’s campaign still retains many of the elements that have made the franchise so popular over the years.
A young Scoob is shown on the first poster (by marketing agency Cold Open), released in November of last year. That immediately explains to the audience that the story will head back in time in some way, offering them something new they may not have seen before. Adding to that is the fact that his shadow is of a grown up Scoob, hinting that as an adult he goes on to become a Sith Lord.
The second poster (by marketing agency Works Adv) came out in March and has Scooby standing in a line up with the rest of the gang, including Dee Dee Skyes (Kiersey Clemons), Blue Falcon and Dynomutt. That same collection of characters, along with the same “Mystery loves company” tagline, are used on the next one-sheet (by Cold Open) which also came out in March. Notably, though, the first two posters include the release date along with the promise it will hit theaters on that day. The last one ditches it for the more generic “Coming Soon,” likely an adjustment for the VOD release that was decided upon.
After a brief setup, the first trailer (33.6 million views on YouTube) from November presents the origin of Shaggy and Scooby, showing how they met by accident as a young boy and puppy and became best friends. Back in the modern day, the pair are abducted by aliens tied to whatever they’re investigating at the moment. A scene of Velma doing her science thing and Daphne being over it ends it all without explaining what the story here is almost at all.
That trailer was the first to use YouTube’s new embedded AR features, allowing those viewing it on the YouTube app to take AR selfies with a young Scooby Doo.
The final trailer (1.3 million views on YouTube), released in early March, establishes that Shaggy and Scooby have been taken by some mysterious blue light from the sky. The rest of the team are out to find them as we flashback to the time the friends first met. Back in the present, we’re shown Blue Falcon and his sidekick Dynomutt are involved in their abduction, but what that means isn’t clear as the rest of the trailer is just about sight gags and other jokes.
Online and Social
There’s actually quite a bit of good content on the movie’s official website, including standard marketing fare like trailers and character overviews as well as a handful of casual online games, some Zoom backgrounds and more.
The site also has a link to WatchScoob.com, a separate site that has lots of information on engaging with the movie from home. There you’ll find links to various VOD platforms to buy the movie and encouragement to join in the increasingly-popular “watch party” trend to experience the film as an online community on the 15th. To help increase that engagement and strengthen the connection in the audience, a PDF is offered that has more details on the virtual premiere event, movie-themed snack recipes, arts and crafts to have fun with and more.
Advertising and Promotions
The movie was among those promoted by WB at CCXP in December of last year.
In March Warner Bros. pulled the movie from its original June release, one of several such changes in the midst of the Covid-19 outbreak. It announced in April the movie would go straight to premium VOD and skip a theatrical release.
Cartoon Network was given an exclusive clip showing Scooby and Shaggy meeting with Blue Falcon, Dee Dee and Dynomutt. Earlier the channel had offered a new preview to audiences of its Saturday programming block.
The new song “Summer Feelings” from Charlie Puth and Lennon Stella was promoted to try and catch the attention of the tweens.
Also on that front was Tik Tok Challenge that had people sharing videos of them doing the “#ScoobDance” with a handful of prominent influencers on that platform leading the way and driving awareness.
Promotional partners for the movie included:
Bark Box, which created a special movie-themed box for subscribers filled with stuffed animals, snacks and more.
Save Them All, a pet adoption foundation that created a new PSA with the movie’s characters to encourage people to find their new furry friend.
Blue Buffalo, which created a special line of Scooby Snacks dog treats.
Carl’s Jr., which put movie toys in their Star Pals kids meals.
Valpak, which promoted the early access digital premiere in its residential mailers.
Walmart also gets its own link on the official site as the “Shop” where you can find exclusive merchandise.
Updates made to social media profiles show the movie offering a keen awareness of the unusual circumstances society finds itself in. So there are lots of posts about hugging your pets, even if it is for the hundredth time that day, staying safe and protecting friends, eating your feelings and so on. It’s a nice touch that shows the movie isn’t trying to gloss over anything, just help people through a tough time.
A new video came out earlier this week offering professional tips on how to draw Scooby-Doo.
There were a handful of short promo videos, visible on social media primarily, that acted like online or TV ads but it’s not clear if they were used there at all. Some online banner ads used elements of the key art as well.
Media and Press
As the movie got close to release, Forte, Jeong and a few others engaged in a handful of interviews to talk about the movie, how they were passing the time during social isolation and other related topics.
It’s…not a terrible campaign. Certainly better than it could have been. But the best parts of the studio’s effort seems to be everything but the trailers, which isn’t a great sign. Those trailers don’t make the movie seem attractive to anyone above the age of 8 and offers little to nothing about the story, meaning the value proposition being offered is even weaker.
The rest of the campaign is quite a bit better. In particular, the way WB pivoted and offered the home viewing party pack for people to use during the virtual premiere is a great way to make the most of a bad situation. It’s a fun, inventive way to create a new touchpoint for the audience to latch on to and could do a lot to foster additional excitement, creating a moment for the movie that may not be quite as powerful as opening weekend but serves a similar purpose.
Picking Up the Spare
Just as the movie was hitting VOD a five minute preview was released to offer a taste of what to expect.
WB live-streamed the premiere event, all of which was remote over video conferencing of course.
Details on the movie’s soundtrack were offered here. There were also interviews like this with the film’s production team about creating the look of the characters. Forte also ‘ more about getting into the character of Shaggy.
A number of exhibitors and other partners signed up for virtual sponsorships of the movie.
DC offered 250 of the “Scooby Doo” comics it’s published for free digitally as part of the overall brand revitalization campaign.
Early animation efforts of deleted scenes were shared to show audiences how the story evolved. There were also some bloopers released.
It’s interesting timing that a movie telling the story of how P.T. Barnum began his famous (and sometimes infamous) American Museum comes the same year the circus that for 146 years bore his name shut down. The Greatest Showman sees Hugh Jackman starring as Barnum, beginning at a low point in his life and career, suffering one setback after another. He soon devises the idea to collect oddities and people of interest and fascination under one roof, then charge admission for the public to see them.
Descriptions of the movie have been careful to use the word “inspired by” when alluding to how much of the story should be taken with a generous helping of salt. That story includes Barnum’s wife Charity (Michelle Williams) and Philip, the production assistant who joins him in his quest for show business fame (Zac Efron) as well as Anne, the young performer who catches Phillip’s eye.